High Performance Meets Comfort. No Really.

Review: The Year’s Best Road Bike Is One You’ve Never Heard Of


October 4, 2019 Sports and Outdoors : Cycling By Photo by Hunter Kelley
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No… it’s not a Venge. No, it’s not a SystemSix! No, damnit, it’s not a Timemachine either. All these aero bikes are starting to look the same. However, this Parlee RZ7 is different, I’m telling you. It’s the most comfortable aero bike I’ve ridden, hands down. Parlee Cycles is a relatively small brand based near Boston, but founder Bob Parlee has always made comfort his top priority when it comes to his carbon bikes, and the RZ7 continues this legacy.

What makes the RZ7 so great is the way it interacts with the road (mortar-bombed NYC thoroughfares included). It feels effortlessly fast, mostly due to how smoothly it manages to glide over pavement. With most aero bikes out there right now, “comfort” and “speed” can’t appear in the same sentence. But when the ride is this comfortable, you don’t want to stop riding. I’ve had the bike for less than a month and have already put several hundred miles in the saddle. It’s just so addicting to thrash through the war zone of New York City streets.

The Good

Almost everything is stellar on this bike, but maybe I am biased. I already own a Parlee, and I’m sad to say it is now the slower of the two. This bike isn’t a bucking stallion but more of a stable ballistic missile. It’s as simple as point and pedal. Pick a direction and the bike will cut through the air and take you there. It’s also surprisingly lightweight; the size 55 frame (medium) weighs in at about 17.8 pounds, very light for the most basic trim level. You could easily get that number down to pro peloton figures with some lighter components.

In the straights the Parlee RZ7 pulls like a train. I’ve had friends hop on my wheel and struggle to keep up. But what’s even more surprising is the bike’s ability to climb up the hills. The lightweight frame paired with the SRAM AXS 46-33T chainring and 10-33 rear cassette makes it an extremely capable climbing bike — so capable I broke a Strava Personal Record previously set by my lighter bike. I am surprised and also confused that an aero bike is faster than a climbing bike when it comes to, you know, actually climbing.

The RZ7 is the most advanced offering from Parlee yet, and the first to bring system integration to a bike. The aesthetics of the stem are marmite to some, but it allows all of the cables to be neatly internalized, adding to the contemporary, streamlined look. The stem also features a fully integrated GPS mount that slides into the front and sits rock solid. Thru axles are custom, and the outer thread is hidden. The bike also packs Parlee’s proprietary speed fairings, which purport to aerodynamically shield the disc brake calipers. Do they work? Probably. Can I tell? No, I can’t.

Because this is a future-bike, all RZ7s come with disc brakes and electronic shifting only, which might turn off some bicycling purists. “Discs are ugly, rims brakes are timeless!” “Shimano Di2 – No Battery No Go.” I was one of those skeptics before riding this bike. I was forced to embrace technology. I still think rim brakes look better, being a photographer and all. But disc brakes do stop better, which is, you know, kind of important.

Who It’s For

The RZ7 is for someone with good taste, maybe a little too much taste, who wants something a bit more… exotic. Parlee is a boutique brand, a bike you don’t see too often, and price tags reflect that reality. This bike is very black. It could not be any more black, except maybe if it was sprayed with Vantablack (in some smartphone photos I could not even see the bike.) If you like stealth bomber looks and ghosted branding, this bike is for you. If you value comfort, but also speed, this bike is for you. If you want to break all your previously held personal records, this bike is for you. If you just love Parlee and want to satisfy your N+1 itch, this bike is for you.

Watch Out For

Like I said, this bike is very black. In anything short of direct sunlight, you can’t even tell who makes the bike. To some, all black bikes are a dying trend. Many also find them boring. Luckily, Parlee offers a world-class custom paint service, but that of course means more money. Also, for such an advanced bike, I find the handlebars contradictory. They aren’t the flat top aero bars we are used to seeing on aero bikes from other manufacturers, and they look a bit out of place here. The bar ends are also oddly long, and I’ve hit my knees on them a few times. Additionally, I think the stock tires are a bit delicate for long and aggressive riding; I suffered a puncture after only a hundred miles.

Alternatives

This bike is kind of in a league of its own. There are other bikes out there just as aerodynamic (see first paragraph). But I sincerely doubt any of them offer the same ride quality as the RZ7.

Verdict

The “Aero is Everything” trend is here to stay. Reviewing this bike has me drinking the Kool-Aid, and if I could keep it, I surely would. The RZ7 blends all-day comfort with high-performing aerodynamics and climbing ability, a package every manufacturer claims to offer but often fails to deliver. It’s not cheap by any means, but if you can afford it, you will not regret your decision.

Key Specs (as tested)
Frame: Parlee Performance Road Geometry
Tubing: Parlee High Modulus Carbon Fiber, Recurve 2.0 Design
Paint: Matte Black with Ghosted Logos
Groupset: SRAM Force eTap AXS
Chainset: 46-33T
Cassette: 10-33T 12 Speed
Bottom Bracket: SRAM Dub PF30
Wheelset: Reynolds AR41 Carbon
Tires: Vittoria Corsa Speed 2.0 (Tubeless Ready)
Stem: Parlee Carbon
Handlebars: Parlee Carbon
Seatpost: Parlee Carbon
Saddle: Ergon SR

Parlee provided this product for review.

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